Home Office to reconsider deportation of Sikh leader

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The Independent Online
THE HOME OFFICE has been forced to reconsider plans to deport a British Sikh leader it has branded 'an international terrorist' who has been held without trial for two years.

Lawyers said yesterday that a Court of Appeal ruling last month made it imperative that a halt was called to all moves to send Karamjit Singh Chahal to face trial in India.

The court quashed convictions against Mr Chahal arising from a fight in an east London Sikh temple in 1987. The convictions had been the sole piece of evidence ministers had given in public for threatening to expel Mr Chahal as a threat to national security and a promoter of Sikh terrorism.

A Home Office spokeswoman said that Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, 'was bound to take the Court of Appeal's decision into account' and would reconsider Mr Chahal's case in the light of the judges' findings.

If Mr Clarke decides that he can no longer justify deporting Mr Chahal, who has lived in Britain since 1974, there will be a major diplomatic row with India.

The Indian High Commission has put intense pressure on Britain to send Mr Chahal back to India. Diplomats have alleged that he has helped raise funds to buy guns for Sikh militants engaged in a bloody fight with the Indian army for an independent Punjab. Mr Chahal has denied this and argued that as a prominent supporter of an independent Sikh homeland it is impossible for him to get a fair trial in India.

He has backed up his claim for asylum with allegations that he was tortured by the Indian police after he visited Sant Bhindranwale - the Sikh separatist leader who died in the 1984 battle with the Indian army for the Golden Temple at Amritsar. The Home Office has never disputed this claim and has a copy of a medical report which states that the numerous scars on Mr Chahal's body and damage to an eardrum are consistent with his allegation that he was tortured.

Until last month, the Home Office had cited Mr Chahal's conviction for assault as evidence that he had a 'violent involvement in Sikh terrorism'. It was alleged that he had been involved in the fight because he was trying to gain control of the temple's money and channel it to terrorists in Punjab.

His lawyers have written to the Home Office saying that now that the Court of Appeal has quashed the convictions, ministers should accept that there is no reputable justification for continuing to view him as a violent man.

However, Home Office sources hinted that ministers could still decide to deport Mr Chahal, despite his acquittal.